“I can’t draw.”

Kurt Vonnegut doodle-selfie

Kurt Vonnegut doodle-selfie

It’s a common refrain from most adults whenever you ask them to draw anything.

Ask instead, “Do you doodle?”

Confessing yourself a doodler embarrasses a lot of people. Many of us got in trouble for doodling in school and got the message loud and clear: serious people don’t doodle.

Oh, but they do!
From da Vinci to Jefferson to Twain to Vonnegut to Einstein, more than a few famous people have doodled along with the rest of us.

And why not?

We know visuals can aid learning, from simple images to complete visual presentations. At SXSW Interactive one year, I watched as visual facilitators rendered lively presentations visually on large posters — in real time. These huge drawings were displayed for all to examine later, and I marveled at the rich information captured and communicated there.

Dan Roam's visual grammar

Dan Roam’s visual grammar

Then I ran across Dan Roams’ Blah-Blah-Blah: What to Do When Words Won’t Work. He points out how we fail to train our visual thinking abilities adequately. By showing how certain types of images correspond to similar parts of speech (e.g., noun as portrait), he provides a “visual grammar” as a common frame of reference. Suddenly, I could “see” visuals not just as enhancements to verbal language, but a distinct way of communicating. Put them together and you get “vivid (visual + verbal) thinking.” Most importantly, Roam differentiated between being able to draw well and being a visual thinker. His illustrations look more like doodles than art, and that’s just fine.

So I started doodling again.

I bought a small Moleskine with unlined pages that could fit in my pocket. The inside of the front cover provided tips about “sketchnoting” with simple symbols, separators, containers and bullets. Across the bottom of this page, written bold in ALL CAPS was this simple guideline:


Sketchnote elementsMike Rohde, the creator of that moleskine, describes in the Sketchnote Handbook  how he found that shifting to visual note-taking let him listen more closely for big ideas — not just words & phrases. He also found he was more likely to refer back to these sketchnotes than to his old-school text notes.

Emboldened by this, I began to doodle during meetings and presentations. I found it relaxing and engaging. And the more I doodled, the easier it got. That moleskin started going everywhere with me.

Sunni Brown @ SXSW 2010

If I needed any further reinforcement of the value of doodling, that came most recently from Sunni Brown’s latest book, Doodle Revolution. Calling for “a global campaign for visual literacy,” Brown walks readers through basic doodling skills, before showing how to use visuals to convey information in a focused manner. She calls this “tight fusion of words, shapes and images representing text-based or auditory content” an infodoodle. Infodoodling can be done on a personal basis, as a performance (similar to what I saw at SXSW Interactive), and even as a group problem-solving activity.

Doodle from Creative Mornings Austin meeting: "Risk"

Me, I’m still just doodling on a personal level.

I have found that, indeed, that by doodling, I can focus more on the Big Picture, as it were. Lately, it’s been fun to send some of these doodles out on Twitter as well. That first Moleskine is nearly filled up with my doodles now, and as I look back through its pages, I do find that those meetings & presentations come back fresh to my mind as I look at my doodles.

I can’t draw, either — so I doodle. You should, too.

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in books, creativity, doodle, visual thinking and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “I can’t draw.”

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